A Woman of No Importance, by Oscar Wilde

Fourth Act

SCENE

Sitting-room at Mrs. Arbuthnot’s. Large open French window at back, looking on to garden. Doors R.C. and L.C.

[Gerald Arbuthnot writing at table.]

[Enter Alice R.C. followed by Lady Hunstanton and Mrs. Allonby.]

Alice. Lady Hunstanton and Mrs. Allonby.

[Exit L.C.]

Lady Hunstanton. Good morning, Gerald.

Gerald. [Rising.] Good morning, Lady Hunstanton. Good morning, Mrs. Allonby.

Lady Hunstanton. [Sitting down.] We came to inquire for your dear mother, Gerald. I hope she is better?

Gerald. My mother has not come down yet, Lady Hunstanton.

Lady Hunstanton. Ah, I am afraid the heat was too much for her last night. I think there must have been thunder in the air. Or perhaps it was the music. Music makes one feel so romantic — at least it always gets on one’s nerves.

Mrs. Allonby. It’s the same thing, nowadays.

Lady Hunstanton. I am so glad I don’t know what you mean, dear. I am afraid you mean something wrong. Ah, I see you’re examining Mrs. Arbuthnot’s pretty room. Isn’t it nice and old-fashioned?

Mrs. Allonby. [Surveying the room through her lorgnette.] It looks quite the happy English home.

Lady Hunstanton. That’s just the word, dear; that just describes it. One feels your mother’s good influence in everything she has about her, Gerald.

Mrs. Allonby. Lord Illingworth says that all influence is bad, but that a good influence is the worst in the world.

Lady Hunstanton. When Lord Illingworth knows Mrs. Arbuthnot better he will change his mind. I must certainly bring him here.

Mrs. Allonby. I should like to see Lord Illingworth in a happy English home.

Lady Hunstanton. It would do him a great deal of good, dear. Most women in London, nowadays, seem to furnish their rooms with nothing but orchids, foreigners, and French novels. But here we have the room of a sweet saint. Fresh natural flowers, books that don’t shock one, pictures that one can look at without blushing.

Mrs. Allonby. But I like blushing.

Lady Hunstanton. Well, there IS a good deal to be said for blushing, if one can do it at the proper moment. Poor dear Hunstanton used to tell me I didn’t blush nearly often enough. But then he was so very particular. He wouldn’t let me know any of his men friends, except those who were over seventy, like poor Lord Ashton: who afterwards, by the way, was brought into the Divorce Court. A most unfortunate case.

Mrs. Allonby. I delight in men over seventy. They always offer one the devotion of a lifetime. I think seventy an ideal age for a man.

Lady Hunstanton. She is quite incorrigible, Gerald, isn’t she? By-the-by, Gerald, I hope your dear mother will come and see me more often now. You and Lord Illingworth start almost immediately, don’t you?

Gerald. I have given up my intention of being Lord Illingworth’s secretary.

Lady Hunstanton. Surely not, Gerald! It would be most unwise of you. What reason can you have?

Gerald. I don’t think I should be suitable for the post.

Mrs. Allonby. I wish Lord Illingworth would ask me to be his secretary. But he says I am not serious enough.

Lady Hunstanton. My dear, you really mustn’t talk like that in this house. Mrs. Arbuthnot doesn’t know anything about the wicked society in which we all live. She won’t go into it. She is far too good. I consider it was a great honour her coming to me last night. It gave quite an atmosphere of respectability to the party.

Mrs. Allonby. Ah, that must have been what you thought was thunder in the air.

Lady Hunstanton. My dear, how can you say that? There is no resemblance between the two things at all. But really, Gerald, what do you mean by not being suitable?

Gerald. Lord Illingworth’s views of life and mine are too different.

Lady Hunstanton. But, my dear Gerald, at your age you shouldn’t have any views of life. They are quite out of place. You must be guided by others in this matter. Lord Illingworth has made you the most flattering offer, and travelling with him you would see the world — as much of it, at least, as one should look at — under the best auspices possible, and stay with all the right people, which is so important at this solemn moment in your career.

Gerald. I don’t want to see the world: I’ve seen enough of it.

Mrs. Allonby. I hope you don’t think you have exhausted life, Mr. Arbuthnot. When a man says that, one knows that life has exhausted him.

Gerald. I don’t wish to leave my mother.

Lady Hunstanton. Now, Gerald, that is pure laziness on your part. Not leave your mother! If I were your mother I would insist on your going.

[Enter Alice L.C.]

Alice. Mrs. Arbuthnot’s compliments, my lady, but she has a bad headache, and cannot see any one this morning. [Exit R.C.]

Lady Hunstanton. [Rising.] A bad headache! I am so sorry! Perhaps you’ll bring her up to Hunstanton this afternoon, if she is better, Gerald.

Gerald. I am afraid not this afternoon, Lady Hunstanton.

Lady Hunstanton. Well, tomorrow, then. Ah, if you had a father, Gerald, he wouldn’t let you waste your life here. He would send you off with Lord Illingworth at once. But mothers are so weak. They give up to their sons in everything. We are all heart, all heart. Come, dear, I must call at the rectory and inquire for Mrs. Daubeny, who, I am afraid, is far from well. It is wonderful how the Archdeacon bears up, quite wonderful. He is the most sympathetic of husbands. Quite a model. Good-bye, Gerald, give my fondest love to your mother.

Mrs. Allonby. Good-bye, Mr. Arbuthnot.

Gerald. Good-bye.

[Exit Lady Hunstanton and Mrs. Allonby. Gerald sits down and reads over his letter.]

Gerald. What name can I sign? I, who have no right to any name. [Signs name, puts letter into envelope, addresses it, and is about to seal it, when door L.C. opens and Mrs. Arbuthnot enters. Gerald lays down sealing-wax. Mother and son look at each other.]

Lady Hunstanton. [Through French window at the back.] Good-bye again, Gerald. We are taking the short cut across your pretty garden. Now, remember my advice to you — start at once with Lord Illingworth.

Mrs. Allonby. Au revoir, Mr. Arbuthnot. Mind you bring me back something nice from your travels — not an Indian shawl — on no account an Indian shawl.

[Exeunt.]

Gerald. Mother, I have just written to him.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. To whom?

Gerald. To my father. I have written to tell him to come here at four o’clock this afternoon.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. He shall not come here. He shall not cross the threshold of my house.

Gerald. He must come.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. Gerald, if you are going away with Lord Illingworth, go at once. Go before it kills me: but don’t ask me to meet him.

Gerald. Mother, you don’t understand. Nothing in the world would induce me to go away with Lord Illingworth, or to leave you. Surely you know me well enough for that. No: I have written to him to say —

Mrs. Arbuthnot. What can you have to say to him?

Gerald. Can’t you guess, mother, what I have written in this letter?

Mrs. Arbuthnot. No.

Gerald. Mother, surely you can. Think, think what must be done, now, at once, within the next few days.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. There is nothing to be done.

Gerald. I have written to Lord Illingworth to tell him that he must marry you.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. Marry me?

Gerald. Mother, I will force him to do it. The wrong that has been done you must be repaired. Atonement must be made. Justice may be slow, mother, but it comes in the end. In a few days you shall be Lord Illingworth’s lawful wife.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. But, Gerald —

Gerald. I will insist upon his doing it. I will make him do it: he will not dare to refuse.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. But, Gerald, it is I who refuse. I will not marry Lord Illingworth.

Gerald. Not marry him? Mother!

Mrs. Arbuthnot. I will not marry him.

Gerald. But you don’t understand: it is for your sake I am talking, not for mine. This marriage, this necessary marriage, this marriage which for obvious reasons must inevitably take place, will not help me, will not give me a name that will be really, rightly mine to bear. But surely it will be something for you, that you, my mother, should, however late, become the wife of the man who is my father. Will not that be something?

Mrs. Arbuthnot. I will not marry him.

Gerald. Mother, you must.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. I will not. You talk of atonement for a wrong done. What atonement can be made to me? There is no atonement possible. I am disgraced: he is not. That is all. It is the usual history of a man and a woman as it usually happens, as it always happens. And the ending is the ordinary ending. The woman suffers. The man goes free.

Gerald. I don’t know if that is the ordinary ending, mother: I hope it is not. But your life, at any rate, shall not end like that. The man shall make whatever reparation is possible. It is not enough. It does not wipe out the past, I know that. But at least it makes the future better, better for you, mother.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. I refuse to marry Lord Illingworth.

Gerald. If he came to you himself and asked you to be his wife you would give him a different answer. Remember, he is my father.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. If he came himself, which he will not do, my answer would be the same. Remember I am your mother.

Gerald. Mother, you make it terribly difficult for me by talking like that; and I can’t understand why you won’t look at this matter from the right, from the only proper standpoint. It is to take away the bitterness out of your life, to take away the shadow that lies on your name, that this marriage must take place. There is no alternative: and after the marriage you and I can go away together. But the marriage must take place first. It is a duty that you owe, not merely to yourself, but to all other women — yes: to all the other women in the world, lest he betray more.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. I owe nothing to other women. There is not one of them to help me. There is not one woman in the world to whom I could go for pity, if I would take it, or for sympathy, if I could win it. Women are hard on each other. That girl, last night, good though she is, fled from the room as though I were a tainted thing. She was right. I am a tainted thing. But my wrongs are my own, and I will bear them alone. I must bear them alone. What have women who have not sinned to do with me, or I with them? We do not understand each other.

[Enter Hester behind.]

Gerald. I implore you to do what I ask you.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. What son has ever asked of his mother to make so hideous a sacrifice? None.

Gerald. What mother has ever refused to marry the father of her own child? None.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. Let me be the first, then. I will not do it.

Gerald. Mother, you believe in religion, and you brought me up to believe in it also. Well, surely your religion, the religion that you taught me when I was a boy, mother, must tell you that I am right. You know it, you feel it.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. I do not know it. I do not feel it, nor will I ever stand before God’s altar and ask God’s blessing on so hideous a mockery as a marriage between me and George Harford. I will not say the words the Church bids us to say. I will not say them. I dare not. How could I swear to love the man I loathe, to honour him who wrought you dishonour, to obey him who, in his mastery, made me to sin? No: marriage is a sacrament for those who love each other. It is not for such as him, or such as me. Gerald, to save you from the world’s sneers and taunts I have lied to the world. For twenty years I have lied to the world. I could not tell the world the truth. Who can, ever? But not for my own sake will I lie to God, and in God’s presence. No, Gerald, no ceremony, Church-hallowed or State-made, shall ever bind me to George Harford. It may be that I am too bound to him already, who, robbing me, yet left me richer, so that in the mire of my life I found the pearl of price, or what I thought would be so.

Gerald. I don’t understand you now.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. Men don’t understand what mothers are. I am no different from other women except in the wrong done me and the wrong I did, and my very heavy punishments and great disgrace. And yet, to bear you I had to look on death. To nurture you I had to wrestle with it. Death fought with me for you. All women have to fight with death to keep their children. Death, being childless, wants our children from us. Gerald, when you were naked I clothed you, when you were hungry I gave you food. Night and day all that long winter I tended you. No office is too mean, no care too lowly for the thing we women love — and oh! how I loved YOU. Not Hannah, Samuel more. And you needed love, for you were weakly, and only love could have kept you alive. Only love can keep any one alive. And boys are careless often and without thinking give pain, and we always fancy that when they come to man’s estate and know us better they will repay us. But it is not so. The world draws them from our side, and they make friends with whom they are happier than they are with us, and have amusements from which we are barred, and interests that are not ours: and they are unjust to us often, for when they find life bitter they blame us for it, and when they find it sweet we do not taste its sweetness with them . . . You made many friends and went into their houses and were glad with them, and I, knowing my secret, did not dare to follow, but stayed at home and closed the door, shut out the sun and sat in darkness. What should I have done in honest households? My past was ever with me. . . . And you thought I didn’t care for the pleasant things of life. I tell you I longed for them, but did not dare to touch them, feeling I had no right. You thought I was happier working amongst the poor. That was my mission, you imagined. It was not, but where else was I to go? The sick do not ask if the hand that smooths their pillow is pure, nor the dying care if the lips that touch their brow have known the kiss of sin. It was you I thought of all the time; I gave to them the love you did not need: lavished on them a love that was not theirs . . . And you thought I spent too much of my time in going to Church, and in Church duties. But where else could I turn? God’s house is the only house where sinners are made welcome, and you were always in my heart, Gerald, too much in my heart. For, though day after day, at morn or evensong, I have knelt in God’s house, I have never repented of my sin. How could I repent of my sin when you, my love, were its fruit! Even now that you are bitter to me I cannot repent. I do not. You are more to me than innocence. I would rather be your mother — oh! much rather! — than have been always pure . . . Oh, don’t you see? don’t you understand? It is my dishonour that has made you so dear to me. It is my disgrace that has bound you so closely to me. It is the price I paid for you — the price of soul and body — that makes me love you as I do. Oh, don’t ask me to do this horrible thing. Child of my shame, be still the child of my shame!

Gerald. Mother, I didn’t know you loved me so much as that. And I will be a better son to you than I have been. And you and I must never leave each other . . . but, mother . . . I can’t help it . . . you must become my father’s wife. You must marry him. It is your duty.

Hester. [Running forwards and embracing Mrs. Arbuthnot.] No, no; you shall not. That would be real dishonour, the first you have ever known. That would be real disgrace: the first to touch you. Leave him and come with me. There are other countries than England . . . Oh! other countries over sea, better, wiser, and less unjust lands. The world is very wide and very big.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. No, not for me. For me the world is shrivelled to a palm’s breadth, and where I walk there are thorns.

Hester. It shall not be so. We shall somewhere find green valleys and fresh waters, and if we weep, well, we shall weep together. Have we not both loved him?

Gerald. Hester!

Hester. [Waving him back.] Don’t, don’t! You cannot love me at all, unless you love her also. You cannot honour me, unless she’s holier to you. In her all womanhood is martyred. Not she alone, but all of us are stricken in her house.

Gerald. Hester, Hester, what shall I do?

Hester. Do you respect the man who is your father?

Gerald. Respect him? I despise him! He is infamous.

Hester. I thank you for saving me from him last night.

Gerald. Ah, that is nothing. I would die to save you. But you don’t tell me what to do now!

Hester. Have I not thanked you for saving ME?

Gerald. But what should I do?

Hester. Ask your own heart, not mine. I never had a mother to save, or shame.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. He is hard — he is hard. Let me go away.

Gerald. [Rushes over and kneels down bedside his mother.] Mother, forgive me: I have been to blame.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. Don’t kiss my hands: they are cold. My heart is cold: something has broken it.

Hester, Ah, don’t say that. Hearts live by being wounded. Pleasure may turn a heart to stone, riches may make it callous, but sorrow — oh, sorrow cannot break it. Besides, what sorrows have you now? Why, at this moment you are more dear to him than ever, DEAR though you have BEEN, and oh! how dear you HAVE been always. Ah! be kind to him.

Gerald. You are my mother and my father all in one. I need no second parent. It was for you I spoke, for you alone. Oh, say something, mother. Have I but found one love to lose another? Don’t tell me that. O mother, you are cruel. [Gets up and flings himself sobbing on a sofa.]

Mrs. Arbuthnot. [To Hester.] But has he found indeed another love?

Hester. You know I have loved him always.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. But we are very poor.

Hester. Who, being loved, is poor? Oh, no one. I hate my riches. They are a burden. Let him share it with me.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. But we are disgraced. We rank among the outcasts Gerald is nameless. The sins of the parents should be visited on the children. It is God’s law.

Hester. I was wrong. God’s law is only Love.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. [Rises, and taking Hester by the hand, goes slowly over to where Gerald is lying on the sofa with his head buried in his hands. She touches him and he looks up.] Gerald, I cannot give you a father, but I have brought you a wife.

Gerald. Mother, I am not worthy either of her or you.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. So she comes first, you are worthy. And when you are away, Gerald . . . with . . . her — oh, think of me sometimes. Don’t forget me. And when you pray, pray for me. We should pray when we are happiest, and you will be happy, Gerald.

Hester. Oh, you don’t think of leaving us?

Gerald. Mother, you won’t leave us?

Mrs. Arbuthnot. I might bring shame upon you!

Gerald. Mother!

Mrs. Arbuthnot. For a little then: and if you let me, near you always.

Hester. [To Mrs. Arbuthnot.] Come out with us to the garden.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. Later on, later on. [Exeunt Hester and Gerald. Mrs. Arbuthnot goes towards door L.C. Stops at looking-glass over mantelpiece and looks into it. Enter Alice R.C.]

Alice. A gentleman to see you, ma’am.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. Say I am not at home. Show me the card. [Takes card from salver and looks at it.] Say I will not see him.

[Lord Illingworth enters. Mrs. Arbuthnot sees him in the glass and starts, but does not turn round. Exit Alice.] What can you have to say to me today, George Harford? You can have nothing to say to me. You must leave this house.

Lord Illingworth. Rachel, Gerald knows everything about you and me now, so some arrangement must be come to that will suit us all three. I assure you, he will find in me the most charming and generous of fathers.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. My son may come in at any moment. I saved you last night. I may not be able to save you again. My son feels my dishonour strongly, terribly strongly. I beg you to go.

Lord Illingworth. [Sitting down.] Last night was excessively unfortunate. That silly Puritan girl making a scene merely because I wanted to kiss her. What harm is there in a kiss?

Mrs. Arbuthnot. [Turning round.] A kiss may ruin a human life, George Harford. I know that. I know that too well.

Lord Illingworth. We won’t discuss that at present. What is of importance today, as yesterday, is still our son. I am extremely fond of him, as you know, and odd though it may seem to you, I admired his conduct last night immensely. He took up the cudgels for that pretty prude with wonderful promptitude. He is just what I should have liked a son of mine to be. Except that no son of mine should ever take the side of the Puritans: that is always an error. Now, what I propose is this.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. Lord Illingworth, no proposition of yours interests me.

Lord Illingworth. According to our ridiculous English laws, I can’t legitimise Gerald. But I can leave him my property. Illingworth is entailed, of course, but it is a tedious barrack of a place. He can have Ashby, which is much prettier, Harborough, which has the best shooting in the north of England, and the house in St. James Square. What more can a gentleman require in this world?

Mrs. Arbuthnot. Nothing more, I am quite sure.

Lord Illingworth. As for a title, a title is really rather a nuisance in these democratic days. As George Harford I had everything I wanted. Now I have merely everything that other people want, which isn’t nearly so pleasant. Well, my proposal is this.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. I told you I was not interested, and I beg you to go.

Lord Illingworth. The boy is to be with you for six months in the year, and with me for the other six. That is perfectly fair, is it not? You can have whatever allowance you like, and live where you choose. As for your past, no one knows anything about it except myself and Gerald. There is the Puritan, of course, the Puritan in white muslin, but she doesn’t count. She couldn’t tell the story without explaining that she objected to being kissed, could she? And all the women would think her a fool and the men think her a bore. And you need not be afraid that Gerald won’t be my heir. I needn’t tell you I have not the slightest intention of marrying.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. You come too late. My son has no need of you. You are not necessary.

Lord Illingworth. What do you mean, Rachel?

Mrs. Arbuthnot. That you are not necessary to Gerald’s career. He does not require you.

Lord Illingworth. I do not understand you.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. Look into the garden. [Lord Illingworth rises and goes towards window.] You had better not let them see you: you bring unpleasant memories. [Lord Illingworth looks out and starts.] She loves him. They love each other. We are safe from you, and we are going away.

Lord Illingworth. Where?

Mrs. Arbuthnot. We will not tell you, and if you find us we will not know you. You seem surprised. What welcome would you get from the girl whose lips you tried to soil, from the boy whose life you have shamed, from the mother whose dishonour comes from you?

Lord Illingworth. You have grown hard, Rachel.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. I was too weak once. It is well for me that I have changed.

Lord Illingworth. I was very young at the time. We men know life too early.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. And we women know life too late. That is the difference between men and women. [A pause.]

Lord Illingworth. Rachel, I want my son. My money may be of no use to him now. I may be of no use to him, but I want my son. Bring us together, Rachel. You can do it if you choose. [Sees letter on table.]

Mrs. Arbuthnot. There is no room in my boy’s life for you. He is not interested in YOU.

Lord Illingworth. Then why does he write to me?

Mrs. Arbuthnot. What do you mean?

Lord Illingworth. What letter is this? [Takes up letter.]

Mrs. Arbuthnot. That — is nothing. Give it to me.

Lord Illingworth. It is addressed to ME.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. You are not to open it. I forbid you to open it.

Lord Illingworth. And in Gerald’s handwriting.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. It was not to have been sent. It is a letter he wrote to you this morning, before he saw me. But he is sorry now he wrote it, very sorry. You are not to open it. Give it to me.

Lord Illingworth. It belongs to me. [Opens it, sits down and reads it slowly. Mrs. Arbuthnot watches him all the time.] You have read this letter, I suppose, Rachel?

Mrs. Arbuthnot. No.

Lord Illingworth. You know what is in it?

Mrs. Arbuthnot. Yes!

Lord Illingworth. I don’t admit for a moment that the boy is right in what he says. I don’t admit that it is any duty of mine to marry you. I deny it entirely. But to get my son back I am ready — yes, I am ready to marry you, Rachel — and to treat you always with the deference and respect due to my wife. I will marry you as soon as you choose. I give you my word of honour.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. You made that promise to me once before and broke it.

Lord Illingworth. I will keep it now. And that will show you that I love my son, at least as much as you love him. For when I marry you, Rachel, there are some ambitions I shall have to surrender. High ambitions, too, if any ambition is high.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. I decline to marry you, Lord Illingworth.

Lord Illingworth. Are you serious?

Mrs. Arbuthnot. Yes.

Lord Illingworth. Do tell me your reasons. They would interest me enormously.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. I have already explained them to my son.

Lord Illingworth. I suppose they were intensely sentimental, weren’t they? You women live by your emotions and for them. You have no philosophy of life.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. You are right. We women live by our emotions and for them. By our passions, and for them, if you will. I have two passions, Lord Illingworth: my love of him, my hate of you. You cannot kill those. They feed each other.

Lord Illingworth. What sort of love is that which needs to have hate as its brother?

Mrs. Arbuthnot. It is the sort of love I have for Gerald. Do you think that terrible? Well it is terrible. All love is terrible. All love is a tragedy. I loved you once, Lord Illingworth. Oh, what a tragedy for a woman to have loved you!

Lord Illingworth. So you really refuse to marry me?

Mrs. Arbuthnot. Yes.

Lord Illingworth. Because you hate me?

Mrs. Arbuthnot. Yes.

Lord Illingworth. And does my son hate me as you do?

Mrs. Arbuthnot. No.

Lord Illingworth. I am glad of that, Rachel.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. He merely despises you.

Lord Illingworth. What a pity! What a pity for him, I mean.

Mrs. Arbuthnot. Don’t be deceived, George. Children begin by loving their parents. After a time they judge them. Rarely if ever do they forgive them.

Lord Illingworth. [Reads letter over again, very slowly.] May I ask by what arguments you made the boy who wrote this letter, this beautiful, passionate letter, believe that you should not marry his father, the father of your own child?

Mrs. Arbuthnot. It was not I who made him see it. It was another.

Lord Illingworth. What fin-de-siecle person?

Mrs. Arbuthnot. The Puritan, Lord Illingworth. [A pause.]

Lord Illingworth. [Winces, then rises slowly and goes over to table where his hat and gloves are. Mrs. Arbuthnot is standing close to the table. He picks up one of the gloves, and begins pulling it on.] There is not much then for me to do here, Rachel?

Mrs. Arbuthnot. Nothing.

Lord Illingworth. It is good-bye, is it?

Mrs. Arbuthnot. For ever, I hope, this time, Lord Illingworth.

Lord Illingworth. How curious! At this moment you look exactly as you looked the night you left me twenty years ago. You have just the same expression in your mouth. Upon my word, Rachel, no woman ever loved me as you did. Why, you gave yourself to me like a flower, to do anything I liked with. You were the prettiest of playthings, the most fascinating of small romances . . . [Pulls out watch.] Quarter to two! Must be strolling back to Hunstanton. Don’t suppose I shall see you there again. I’m sorry, I am, really. It’s been an amusing experience to have met amongst people of one’s own rank, and treated quite seriously too, one’s mistress, and one’s —

[Mrs. Arbuthnot snatches up glove and strikes Lord Illingworth across the face with it. Lord Illingworth starts. He is dazed by the insult of his punishment. Then he controls himself, and goes to window and looks out at his son. Sighs and leaves the room.]

Mrs. Arbuthnot. [Falls sobbing on the sofa.] He would have said it. He would have said it.

[Enter Gerald and Hester from the garden.]

Gerald. Well, dear mother. You never came out after all. So we have come in to fetch you. Mother, you have not been crying? [Kneels down beside her.]

Mrs. Arbuthnot. My boy! My boy! My boy! [Running her fingers through his hair.]

Hester. [Coming over.] But you have two children now. You’ll let me be your daughter?

Mrs. Arbuthnot. [Looking up.] Would you choose me for a mother?

Hester. You of all women I have ever known.

[They move towards the door leading into garden with their arms round each other’s waists. Gerald goes to table L.C. for his hat. On turning round he sees Lord Illingworth’S glove lying on the floor, and picks it up.]

Gerald. Hallo, mother, whose glove is this? You have had a visitor. Who was it?

Mrs. Arbuthnot. [Turning round.] Oh! no one. No one in particular. A man of no importance.

CURTAIN

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Last updated Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 19:40